A SEVERE MERCY is the sort of book that tends to be given as a gift. Example: one of Mitch's best friends gave him a copy less than a month before Mitch and I "met", feel in love, etc. We read the book aloud together during our engagement, and the influence Van and Davy's Shining Barrier has had in our relationship is incalculable--I recently reread A SEVERE MERCY and was struck anew by how many aspects of our marriage have been influenced by Vanauken's book. I was also quite grateful that A SEVERE MERCY found us when it did.
A second example: This led me to give a copy to a Mitch's cousin's fiancee (whew!) at her bridal shower. A few months later, I received the most heartfelt thank-you letter I've ever read--it's just that sort of book.
What's the big deal? Well, it's a memoir of sorts. In it, Vanauken chronicles his romance and marriage to the marvellous Davy, and while it is a love story, it is the most honest and thorough love story you will ever read--complete with journal entries, poems they wrote separately and together, and the many little vows that they made to one another, Vanauken tells how he and Davy eventually wove "one thousand sharings" to bind them together in a way you rarely (if ever) see in common love stories.
Also, it's a story of conversion. The one big breach in Van and Davy's protected love comes in the form of Christ ("invading", as Vanauken says). Probably the only reason this book, with it's small but fiercely devoted following, is still in print is because it includes a handful of otherwise unpublished letters to Van from C.S. Lewis--in fact, if you're having trouble finding a copy at the bookstore, check under "C.S. Lewis," where it's most likely been shelved. (And if you're in Bellingham, I can tell you right now that Henderson Books has a whopping three copies in stock! Amazing!)
I have to warn you, though--while it's beautiful, inspiring, honest and humbling, A SEVERE MERCY is also probably the saddest book you'll ever read. You'll cry. I guarantee it. No matter how tough you think you are, you'll get good and choked up. But don't let that stop you--please finish the whole thing. When Mitch and I read it together, we were so bitterly broken-hearted at a certain point that we found it difficult to keep going--so we didn't. It wasn't until two years later, when I reread the whole book, that I realized that the rest of the book was absolutely worth a few tears shed over lunch (in an embarrassingly public place--I did, in fact, have to leave the co-op to go sit in my car and weep).
Another small warning: I've given copies of this book to single friends who shrugged and weren't moved to finish the book, so I'd venture to say that this is possibly a two-person book--read it with your beloved, and it'll be that much more meaningful.